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Inspection Report I

HOW GOLF SAVED
SHERLOCK HOLMES

Richard Hartman
1999

The Diogenes Club:  Link to the Norwood Building Inspectors:  The Sherlock Holmes Society of Charleston, West Virginia

 
At the first meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Society of Charleston, West Virginia the question was asked if golf ever appeared as an element within the cases of Sherlock Holmes. To the best knowledge of those in attendance no Holmes story ever utilized the royal and ancient game of golf. This may seem an unexplained oversight on the part of Sir Arthur Conan Dolye, as he was born in Scotland, as was golf. Dr. Dolye was a lifelong golfer. His study look out on a golf course and he spent many afternoons on the links. Sherlock Holmes was at least acquainted with the game by his brief discussion of golf clubs in the story "The Greek Interpreter"

Still, no Sherlock Holmes case utilized golf or the golf links as background, venue or murderous element.  A fact that those of us who love both the game and Sherlock Holmes find unusual as playing golf can frequently elicit murderous thoughts and a golf club makes for a substantial weapon. Just imagine…. "The
Adventure of the Missing Guttie Ball" or "The Case of the Par Four Dog-leg". Why would Sir Arthur ignore such opportunities?

As popular as Sherlock Holmes was after twenty-four stories Conan Doyle grew tired of his creation and desired to pursue other literary avenues. He decided to kill off the great detective. In the story, appropriately named "The Final Problem" Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty are locked in a deadly struggle atop the Reichenbach Falls. As reported by Dr. Watson, the two fell from the edge and were
engulfed in the swirling waters below.

However, do not distress yourselves, dear friends of either the game of golf or "the game is afoot". It was golf that resurrected Sherlock Holmes from the cruel mist of Reichenbach Falls.

After apparently killing our great detective, Dr. Doyle remained impervious to the cries of his reading public. Only a mere twenty-five stories to read and re-read proved inadequate to the lovers of this new form of literature, the detective story. Would such a paltry sum of Sherlock Holmes adventures engender such long lasting devotion? Perhaps not. Would the detective mystery as a literary genre come into being with such a limited foundation? Perhaps not. Would Dr. Doyle remain merely a doctor and fail to ever be knighted Sir Arthur? Perhaps so.

But it was golf that insured all things would be put right.

"The Final Problem" appeared in the Strand magazine in December 1893. The public was outraged at the death of Sherlock Holmes. Some in London were seen wearing a black mourning cloth on their top hats and sleeves. In America the loss was equally felt. Almost seven years passed with the world mourning his death and clamoring for more of Sherlock Holmes. Unmoved, Conan Doyle published his other less well known literary works until March 1901. Spending a weekend with his good friend Fletcher Robinson at the Royal Links Hotel in Cromer, along the Norfolk coast the two engaged in a round of golf. Robinson was a collector of local stories and strange tales. Dr. Doyle’s friend told him of a ghostly legend. A
demonic beast was said to haunt the moors around Dartmoor. The two friends created a verbal outline for a story. By the conclusion of the weekend the most famous Sherlock Holmes adventure was firmly on its way from a concept to an anxious world. The golfing camaraderie of two friends and the liberating
concentration of the game had resurrected Sherlock Holmes. Although Dr. Doyle argued that Holmes was still dead and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was an earlier case newly produced by Dr. Watson, events were set in motion. Dr. Doyle even recognized his golfing friend on the dedication page of the novel by stating "My dear Robinson, It was your account of a west country legend which first suggested the idea of this little tale to my mind. For this, and for the help which you gave me in its evolution, all thanks. Yours most truly, A Conan Doyle."

Published as installments in the Strand magazine between August 1901 and April 1902, the story was a great success, particularly in America.

Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted on August 9, 1902, due to his work during the South African Wars.  However, many believed at the time, and still today that the honor was actually for bringing back England’s most popular literary kinsman. It was the American success of the "Hound of the Baskervilles" that resulted in an American publisher offering $5,000 per short story for more of Holmes. Similarly, a British publisher added $3,000 to the offer. Such an amount made Sir. Arthur the highest paid writer in history, at that time. The sum must have shaken Sir Arthur out of his dislike for his greatest creation for in September 1903 the story of "The Empty House" completed the resurrection of the body of Mr. Holmes as the "Hound of the Baskervilles " had resurrected his spirit. It turned out Sherlock Holmes had faked his death in "The Final Problem" for reasons made known in "The Empty House". Perhaps sensing a future return the author had provided an escape by allowing Holmes’ death to be without an eyewitness and the failure of a body being found at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls.

Sir Arthur went on to pen thirty-four more Holmes adventures for a total of sixty ending in 1927. Now we had a volume of work strong enough to support scholarship as well as devotion. Now there existed a collection of adventures to justify the creation of hundreds of Sherlockian Societies the world over. Now
there were enough stories to launch the detective mystery novel as a literary classification, which today represents an industry in itself.

All thanks to a game of golf.

Presented by
Richard Hartman, "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
before
The Norwood Building Inspectors
The Sherlock Holmes Society of Charleston, West Virginia
November 18, 1999

Copyright 1999, Richard Hartman, All Rights Reserved

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